CINCINNATI -- Kevin Zeitler's biggest food critic has noticed some improvements to his cooking in recent months.
What are the culinary upgrades the Cincinnati Bengals right guard has made? He has been told by his wife, Sara, that he now apparently makes the world's best scrambled eggs.
You were expecting something more? You were expecting to read something like Tagliatelle pasta with porcini mushrooms and a white truffle sauce? Or Chicken Provencal, made with fresh rosemary, thyme and parsley? Baby steps. Zeitler has to start somewhere. He contends the growth from his once "basic" cooking skills haven't yet turned him into the head chef of a five-star restaurant.
What he has turned into, though, is a careful cooker, a cautious eater, and most importantly, his old lean self.
Zeitler dedicated this offseason to improving his diet after dealing with a foot injury last fall that derailed most of the latter half of his 2013 season.
"I took a hard approach to my nutrition," Zeitler said. "I got a little heavy last year with the injury and everything. I met with a couple nutritionists and did everything I could to get my body back to what it naturally is.
"I'm naturally lean."
Zeitler was listed at 315 pounds last season, and remains there entering next week's training camp, per Bengals.com. He believes his body fat percentage was a little elevated, as well as his in-season weight, affecting his ability not only to avoid the injury but to recover from it.
"It was a mix of things. I got married last year so maybe my metabolism just automatically dropped from that," Zeitler said, laughing. "I don't know. But I'm back on track and everything is good right now."
He was banged up in the Bengals' overtime loss at Baltimore early last November and ended up missing the next four games. Even when he returned in Week 16, the foot wasn't as healed as he had hoped.
While he still averaged 50 snaps in the three games he was able to play after his return (that includes the wild-card round loss to San Diego), Zeitler still wasn't playing at the capacity he had been before the injury. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he was part of all 93 Week 9 snaps at Miami, and even gutted out every snap in the game at Baltimore the week after when he was injured.
Zeitler missed only 10 snaps in the 10 games he played before the injury, per ESPN Stats & Information. After his return, he missed 62 in the three games he played. Part of that drop could be attributed to the emergence of Mike Pollak, the backup who impressed coaches with the way he filled in for Zeitler. In an effort to keep the hot Pollak in the rotation, Zeitler was forced into splitting snaps after his return.
It doesn't appear Zeitler has to worry about competition from Pollak this training camp as it appears the veteran reserve Pollak will be moving to center. While the Bengals haven't formally indicated such a move will happen, it has been expected Pollak will play there following Kyle Cook's release earlier this offseason. Pollak has experience at both center and guard. He didn't get a chance to work at either position in the spring, though, as he dealt with a knee injury he expects to be rid of once camp starts on Thursday.
With respect to his diet changes, Zeitler said he was compelled to make them precisely because of the way the season ended -- without major contributions from him and with another first-round playoff loss.
"It's just been a very get-after-it offseason," he said. "I didn't like how the season went for us."
In order to meet his goal of trimming the fat and getting back in his peak, lean shape, Zeitler studied as many diet plans as he could. Unlike Bengals such as A.J. Green and Carlos Dunlap, he didn't want to hire a personal chef to make meals for him. He wanted to forge this path on his own.
"Cooking is a life skill. You need that for afterwards anyway," Zeitler said. "I knew a lot of basics, but if you ever look at a nutrition magazine, there's only 10,000 ways of people doing things. I just wanted to get myself on a more focused path and just made up a plan. It told me what to eat and I took care of all that. I took care of all the cooking myself."
That means you won't find many add-ons in meals Zeitler makes. He's avoiding additional salt and unnecessary seasonings on his dishes. He isn't, however, avoiding meats and carbohydrates.
"It's more of a bodybuilder style," Zeitler said of his diet, adding that Cincinnati-based nutritionist and gym owner Jim Riggs was among those he consulted when looking into his eating changes. "It's just pretty much eating every three to four hours, and it's just a higher protein intake and still a good amount of carbs. You eat more, but you lose. It's a crazy thing."